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Tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy speaks at Mills College

Don Ed Hardy, internationally-acclaimed artist, delivered a well-received speech to a large audience on Oct. 4 in the Mills Concert Hall emphasizing influences on his art, mainly his tattoos.

Ranging from the heavily-modified to the non-modified, many students, alumnae and local guests arrived to hear Hardy speak on his art.

“I only have one story, a trip through my life in art,” Hardy said. From the small souvenirs he received from his father as a small boy to his many trips and studies of art in Japan, Hardy explained the influence of Japanese motifs on his art.

As an important icon in tattooing, many in the audience were surprised to see Hardy dressed in a suit and tie with no extremely apparent tattoos on his face or hands. “I thought he’d look like a biker or something. But that’s so often the case with profound people. It’s not about the image,” Ellen Rodgers, a visitor from San Francisco, said.

Hardy explained that tattooing has influenced him since early childhood, when he made his own “tattooing studio” with ballpoint pens despite the culture around him. “At that time, tattooing was still very much taboo,” Hardy said. Influenced by hot rod art and surfing, Hardy demonstrated through snapshots how tattoo art permeated his life.

Starting with early flash drawings, which are designs one sees ready made on the wall in tattoo parlors, and with manuals from places such as The Zeis School of Tattooing, Hardy developed a unique style. “The book from Zeis had this naked woman formed into a skull on it, and that really inspired me. It’s a constant symbol found in my work,” Hardy said.

The audience found his symbols and speech enjoyable. “He’s very articulate, easy to follow and you don’t get bored with it,” said a visitor from the Bay Area, Carmen Morrison. Everything from a naked woman formed into a skull to women as goddess figures to The Rose of No Man’s Land appeared throughout Hardy’s work as major symbols.

Aside from tattooing, Hardy displayed his other various artistic interests, from printmaking to ceramics to lithographs to a huge 2,000 square foot painting of 2,000 dragons, a project that Hardy said was 24 years in the making. The audience was intrigued and delighted by Hardy’s vast array of artistic expression.

Although Hardy has a wide collection of art, his contribution to the tattoo world is a keystone of his artistic career. “Nearly every rockabilly has a tattoo designed by Don Ed Hardy. His tattoos are a strong part of tattoo culture today,” senior Tina Sogliuzzo said.

With his showing, Hardy expressed the importance of art and artistic expression. “In these terrible times that we’re living in, if we can find some common humanity it can provide a common ground for sanity,” Hardy explained. Concluding his presentation, Hardy simply said, “It’s art for life.”

Hardy now rarely does tattoos and, because of his impact, a tattoo by Don Ed Hardy can cost you up to $500 even for a small one.

The audience ranged from long-time fans to those new to Hardy’s expression. “I didn’t know much about Don Ed Hardy until 5 months ago, and I found it so interesting I just kept researching him. I was fascinated to find him,” Morrison said.

Audience members expressed pleasure with the range of support tattoo art had found. “I was excited to come. I’m glad Mills brought Don Ed Hardy here. It’s a great example of their support for non-traditional fine artists,” Timanna Bennet, Mills alumnae, said.

Many members of the audience enjoyed the way Hardy interacted with everyone. “He wasn’t pretentious, and he appreciated those continuing tattooing. I really appreciated his humbleness,” Rodgers said.

Hardy expressed the underpinnings of his influence, his respect, his appreciation for art, as well as the importance of artistic expression. “I went into tattooing … because I wanted to be self-sufficient, not held under anyone’s thumb,” Hardy said.

Hardy left the stage to much applause.